GEO 206-V: Physical Geography, Online
Spring 2017: Semester: Syllabus

Instructor, Section 730: Mattie Bene (

Syllabus Outline

Course Goals and Learning Outcomes (Objectives)

Course Materials and Requirements


Course Netiquette

Course Organization

Your instructor, onGEO staff, and course author




Writing Assignments

Course Policies

MSU privacy statement (and use of course materials)

Academic honesty


Spartan Code of Honor


Calculating your final grade

Spring 2017 Semester: Schedule

Course Goals and Learning Outcomes (Objectives):


The primary purpose of this course is to:

  1. Provide you with an overview of the physical environment. Toward that end, a variety of topics will be covered. As you work your way through the course, keep in mind that many of the topics are interrelated. In other words, one concept leads into another.
  2. Expand students' knowledge and understanding of Earth’s natural environment and processes that take place therein.
  3. Cultivate an appreciation of the diversity of physical landscapes found across Earth’s surface, the processes that are responsible for these landscapes at the location where they are found and the patterns and distributions that can be observed.
  4. Develop students' geographic perspective, particularly as it can be used to view Earth’s natural environment, and provide opportunities for them to apply it to current events and the physical landscapes and phenomena involved.

Learning outcomes (objectives):

By successfully completing this course, students will be able to:

  1. Define and use common terms associated with the study of physical geography such as weather, climate, radiation, and geomorphology, among many, many others.
  2. List specific examples of how geographic tools and techniques contribute to understanding of physical landscapes.
  3. Read and analyze a map using basic map reading skills and an understanding of how spatial variation, patterns, and distributions of the physical environment are represented on a map.
  4. Describe the characteristics and composition of the atmosphere, and its related processes, including those responsible for global circulation patterns, weather and climate.
  5. Explain the distribution of earth’s biomes, and describe the dominant vegetation, soils, and associated climate type of the six main biomes.
  6. Describe the character and composition of the lithosphere, including soils and crust, and their related processes, such as plate tectonics and mass wasting.
  7. Define geomorphology and explain the geomorphic agents and their processes responsible for creating and shaping the landforms and landscapes we see on Earth.
  8. Tell what is meant by global climate change, explain the mechanisms responsible for Earth’s changing climate, and explain the difference between natural and anthropogenic climate change.
  9. Apply the knowledge and skills gained in this course to local, national, and global citizenship, specifically as they pertain to issues and events concerning the natural environment.

Course Materials and Requirements:

The materials required to complete this course will be provided for you through the course website in D2L AND your required textbook. You will also be required to follow links in the online lessons to websites that provide additional information on specific topics.


(1) All
course emails will be sent to your Michigan State ( account ONLY through the D2L system. You will need to check your Michigan State account at least once a day for emails from your Instructor and Online-Geography staff. If you need to, please set your Michigan State account to forward your emails to an account that you do check frequently.

Course Netiquette:

An entirely online course is quite different from the traditional courses you have taken at Michigan State University. In an online course, the only contact you are likely to have with your Instructor or with others in the class is through email, discussion boards, blogs, wikis, chat rooms, facebook, et cetera. In general, this system works well and many students prefer it to a traditional (lecture) class because they can ask questions freely without feeling intimidated. However, we have also discovered that this same feeling of freedom can be a negative thing, particularly because some students feel they can be rude. We ask that you make a special effort to be respectful in all of your correspondence during this course.

REMEMBER: THE ONLY BASIS YOUR INSTRUCTOR HAS FOR GRADING AND DISCUSSIONS IS THROUGH YOUR WORDS ON A COMPUTER SCREEN. Your Instructor has no other context in which to understand your thinking. Therefore, it is important to be concise, informative, and polite while ‘talking’ with your Instructor and other students in the class.

Course Organization:

While a team of faculty and staff manages the course, an Instructor teaches each section. Moreover, this course is delivered through a series of online lessons and textbook readings. Course assessment is accomplished through online quizzes (based on online lesson material) and the completion of a four-part case study.

Your instructor, onGEO staff, and course author
Mattie Bene is the course instructor. She is responsible for the day-to-day management and grading. Ms. Bene will grade any and all assignments and assessments, respond to any content questions you have, answer questions about how to work through the course, and issue final grades. ALL email correspondence and other forms of communication need to go to Ms. Bene ( ).

Juliegh Bookout and Beth Weisenborn are Online Geography (onGEO) staff members, so you may receive notices from them occasionally.

Dr. Arbogast is the author and advisor of this course--he created the course and is the professor responsible for the class in the context of the Department of Geography at Michigan State. However, during this semester Dr. Arbogast will NOT be involved in the day-to-day workings of the course.


This course consists of 16 online lessons, or lectures, grouped into four units.




Global Perspectives


Introduction to Physical Geography
-What is Geography?
-What is Physical Geography?


Geographic Tools
-Maps, Scales, & Projections
-Latitude and Longitude
-Remote Sensing and Geographic Information Systems 


The Earth & Sun
- Earth / Sun Geometry
-Solar Radiation

The Atmosphere


Atmosphere & Global Radiation
-The Global Atmosphere
-Atmospheric Layers
-Global Radiation Balance
-Global Radiation Budget


Pressure, Winds, & Circulation
-Atmospheric Pressure
-Global Circulation


Precipitation & Cyclonic Weather Systems
-Physical Properties of Water
-Humidity; Clouds
-Precipitation; Air Masses
-Midlatitude and Tropical Circulation


-Variables that Influence Climate
-Climate Classification
-Global Climate Change

The Biosphere


-Biogeographical Processes
-Biogeographical Realms and Distributions
-Case Studies
-Human Impact


Environmental & Climatic Change
-Prehistoric Environmental Change
-Global Warming


-What is Soil?
-Soil Properties and Characteristics
-Soil Processes
-Soil Geography

The  Lithosphere


Plate Tectonics
-Earth’s Structure and Plate Movements


Rocks, Weathering, & Mass Wasting
-Introduction to the Earth’s Surface
-Rocks and Minerals
-Geologic Time
-Geomorphology and Mass Wasting


Fluvial Geomorphology
-Introduction to Fluvial Geomorphology
-Introduction to Hydrology
-Stream Behavior
-Case Study: Stream-terrace Evolution


Coastal Geomorphology
-Introduction to Coastal Geomorphology
-Coastal Landforms
-Case Study: Michigan Beach Grooming
-Case Histories: Asian Tsunami, Hurricane Katrina


Glacial Geomorphology
-Introduction to Glacial Geomorphology
-Glacial Features
-History of Glaciations
-Mechanisms for Glaciations; Glaciers and Global Climate
-Case Study: The Grayling Fingers


Eolian Geomorphology
-Introduction to Eolian Geomorphology
-Eolian Deposition and Landforms
-Case Study: Reconstructing the Evolution of Lake Michigan Coastal Dunes

Throughout the lessons, you will be asked to follow supplemental web links and answer associated questions.  The lesson will indicate whether links are required or optional. Required direction boxes will either say "At this time…," and provide you with instructions about further activities, or "A follow-up...," and provide you with further information about a concept introduced in the lesson material. You are required to complete the assignments in each of these direction boxes. Some quiz questions may be derived directly from websites that you are required to visit.

Features such as "A side note…" boxes or the "Above and Beyond" sections are optional. Exploration of these sites will increase your understanding of the subject matter and may help you with the quizzes.

In each online lesson, you may have the opportunity to test your knowledge with pop-up questions. These questions are not graded and do not need to be handed in while you work through your lesson, but you will be able to look at the correct answers and discuss any questions you have with your instructor. You may see some of these questions (or similar questions) again on an assessment.


The textbook [Discovering Physical Geography, 3rd Edition by Arbogast (2014; Wiley)] used in this course provides complementary explanations and details for material covered in the online lessons. You will be directed to the required reading selections in the corresponding online lesson (look for features that say, “open your text”). Some quiz questions will address concepts and discussions found in those selected textbook readings. The author of the textbook is our very own Dr. Arbogast, so you can expect a fair amount of material crossover between the online lessons and text chapters.

While you are only required to read the selected textbook readings, if you need clarification or supplementation of online lesson material, refer to the chapter associated with that online lesson found on the course schedule. Reading the textbook to gain a deeper understanding of concepts and terms introduced online is encouraged.


There will be 16 quizzes during the semester. We have structured the quiz schedule as evenly as possible over the semester to ease your workload. The purpose of these quizzes is to test your understanding of the material from the course lessons--this way you can demonstrate your grasp of the material from these units while it is still fresh. 

The dates of the quizzes are listed on the course Schedule. You will be notified of a quiz opening in the Calendar area of the Course homepage. This notification will provide you with information concerning the quiz dates and access times. 

Each quiz will be offered over a period of about one week, at the times (Eastern Time) and dates specified on the Course Schedule (last page of the syllabus and in D2L). You may log into the quiz at any time during that window. Once logged into the quiz, you have a set time limit to complete your quiz and turn it in. You must submit your quiz by the time your limit is reached; at that point the quiz will automatically submit for you.

You are expected to treat the online quizzes as you would a quiz in a traditional lecture class--in other words, no cheating of any kind. With this said, the quizzes are open textbook and note. Your textbook and notes are the ONLY materials you should consult while taking your quizzes. Your Instructor and other administrators CAN and DO monitor your quiz logs before, during, and after you have taken the quiz - they can detect patterns consistent with cheating (including plagiarism) and have the authority to discuss the matter with you immediately and give you a ZERO if they see fit. Once you have turned in your quiz, the computer automatically grades the multiple-choice and T/F questions. Official grades, graded submissions, and feedback for the quiz are provided on the course website about 2-3 days following the quiz.

A majority of quizzes will consist of 15 questions (worth 1 point each); however there are some exceptions. Please see the course schedule for more details.  Almost all quiz questions are written from your online lessons, though you may be tested  on some concepts that come directly from the textbook readings.  All quiz questions are selected at random from a pool of questions. All answer options for each question are also ordered at random. Please take note that your quiz is unique and completely unlike any other student's quiz. Attempting to cheat on the quizzes violates the University/course’s academic integrity policies and is a poor use of your time.

Makeup quizzes. Makeup quizzes are only allowed in RARE cases. If the quiz is missed due to an emergency, you may arrange a makeup quiz with your section Instructor. In some cases a makeup can be scheduled if the Instructor is notified at least ONE WEEK before the quiz date. It cannot be stressed enough: you MUST contact your Instructor IMMEDIATELY to set up a makeup quiz. Otherwise, you will miss your opportunity to take a makeup and receive 0 points for the quiz.

Writing assignments

You will be required to submit a response to three writing assignments over the course of the semester. All assignment submissions are due at 11:59 p.m. (ET) on the date specified on the Course Schedule!

As with any course, it is the responsibility of the instructor to uphold the standards suggested by the grading rubric. While your grade is determined by assessing the quality of your assignment compared to the grading rubric, the grading process is subject to the rigor of the instructor.

Although the writing assignments are based on topics covered in this course, you will be asked to conduct additional research in order to fulfill the requirements of the assignment. Each assignment is worth a maximum of 25 points total. Your score will be based on the completeness of your response (for example, 25 points for a truly superior and insightful response, 15 points for an adequate response, 5 points for an incomplete response), as well as spelling, grammar, and clarity. All sources must be cited. Also, any form or degree of plagiarism will NOT be TOLERATED and will result in 0 points, no questions asked!

The following applies to all assignments in this course:

Grading. As with any course, it is the responsibility of the Instructor to uphold the standards suggested by the grading rubrics. While your grade is determined by assessing the quality of your assignment compared to the grading rubric, the grading process is subject to the rigor of the Instructor.

Sources and citations: These assignments have been designed to provide you with the opportunity to demonstrate knowledge you have learned in the course on a more personal level, and even  gain a practical skill that can be used in other courses. Bear in mind that we do not want to read your unfounded and unsupported opinion on a topic. You must follow direction and support your ideas and opinions with credible, properly referenced sources when appropriate.

Plagiarism: We use Turnitin originality checker software to detect plagiarism in work submitted by students. If your response contains ANY reference material (including online lesson material or other students' responses) without being properly cited, you will be given a zero and we will submit an Academic Dishonesty Report to the Registrar’s Office, which then becomes a part of your permanent MSU academic record. You DO have access to the Turnitin report -- we recommend that you use this service to scan your work prior to submitting it for grades.

Late assignments: If you do not submit an assignment by the due date, you have 24 hours (after the due date) to contact your Instructor to explain your situation AND submit your late response. Responses submitted within this 24-hour window will be worth only half credit. You will receive 0 points for all responses submitted after the 24-hour window.

Missing submissions: Once you have uploaded a submission to a dropbox, you have the ability to exit the course and then return to the assignment dropbox to verify that your file has been submitted. Your activity is tracked in D2L and, once uploaded, files do not disappear. There is no excuse;  if you do not have a  submission, you will not receive a grade.  

Course Policies:

MSU privacy statement (and use of course materials)

From the D2L Help Page (2016):

MSU expects that you will respect the rights of faculty and other students as you participate in the educational process. Participating in an D2L course means that you may have access to personal information and academic work produced by other students and faculty members, such as discussion board postings, drafts of papers and other work produced in the course. Academic norms and MSU policy require that you must not reveal any information about classmates, coursework content, or its authors to anyone outside the course.

Students should be aware that their use of Desire2Learn materials and communication tools in a particular course may be observed and recorded by the instructor of that course. These observations and records may include a student's access to online library materials linked through the Desire2Learn course website. Use of these observations and records must conform to the use and release of confidential student records as described in Michigan State University's Access to Student Information. Students may link to library resources directly, without linking through D2L, using the Library website.

ALL of our course material in D2L is copyrighted property of Michigan State University. This means that ALL course material in the course site is protected and, other than one copy of the material for your own personal use, this material should not be distributed or posted in any form.

If material (lessons/assignments/exams/et cetera) from the course site is posted outside of D2L it is considered misuse of the material, therefore, the course staff can give you a 0 (even after the fact) for the assignment from which the material came.

Academic honesty

From Academic Integrity: MSU Policies, Regulations and Ordinances Regarding Academic Honesty and Integrity (Michigan State University's Office of the Ombudsperson, Faculty FAQ, 2016):

Article 2.III.B.2 of the SRR states: “The student shares with the faculty the responsibility for maintaining the integrity of scholarship, grades, and professional standards.” In addition, (insert name of unit offering course) adheres to the policies on academic honesty specified in General Student Regulation 1.0, Protection of Scholarship and Grades; the all-University Policy on Integrity of Scholarship and Grades; and Ordinance 17.00, Examinations.

Therefore, unless authorized by your instructor, you are expected to complete all course assignments, including homework, lab work, quizzes, tests and exams, without assistance from any source. You are expected to develop original work for this course; therefore, you may not submit coursework you completed for another course to satisfy the requirements for this course.  Also, you are not authorized to use the Web site to complete any course work in this course. Students who violate MSU regulations on Protection of Scholarship and Grades will receive a failing grade in the course or on the assignment.

Faculty are required to report all instances in which a penalty grade is given for academic dishonesty.  Students reported for academic dishonesty are required to take an online course about the integrity of scholarship and grades.  A hold will be placed on the student's account until such time as the student completes the course.  This course is overseen by the Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education.


Plagiarism is a specific type of academic misconduct defined as the effort to fundamentally use someone else's ideas as your own. Studies show that plagiarism is common at most universities, especially in online classes since it is easy to copy directly from the course site (or other websites) and put those exact words, or most of the words, in an answer. When completing written work, including answering essay questions on quizzes/exams and writing assignments, it is essential that you provide references where needed (that is, you properly cite all information that did not come from you) and that your responses are phrased in your OWN, original words. Failure to properly cite course materials (lessons and the textbook, if applicable) and using your own work previously submitted in another course without permission,  are also unacceptable. If your Instructor suspects that part or all of an answer has been plagiarized in any way or form, you will be contacted immediately--plagiarized content is given 0 points.

According to Michigan State University's Office of the Ombudsperson (2016),

Plagiarism may be accidental or blatant or self-plagiarism.  However, students are held to the same standards whether or not they knew they were plagiarizing or whether or not they were plagiarizing themselves or someone else.

It is your responsibility to read and understand course policies (like those provided here) and educate yourself so that you know what actions are considered acts of plagiarism (and academic misconduct, in general). A short quiz about academic plagiarism is located in the Getting Started folder of the course.  We strongly encourage you to read the associated materials and take the quiz prior to beginning the course. Please be conscientious of academic integrity and do not hesitate to contact your Instructor if you have any questions.

Spartan Code of Honor

As a Spartan, I will strive to uphold values of the highest ethical standard. I will practice honesty in my work, foster honesty in my peers, and take pride in knowing that honor is worth more than grades. I will carry these values beyond my time as a student at Michigan State University, continuing the endeavor to build personal integrity in all that I do. (

Student conduct that is inconsistent with the academic pledge is addressed through existing policies, regulations, and ordinances governing academic honesty and integrity: MSU Policies, Regulations and Ordinances Regarding Academic Honesty and Integrity.

Any student who commits an act of academic misconduct (including academic dishonesty, violations of professional standards, or falsification of academic records; click here to read the University policy), will be reported to the University via the Academic Dishonestly Report portal. The type of misconduct and penalty, as well as a detailed account of the violation are submitted and will be accessible to the student’s Associate Dean, designee, and Instructor-of-Record.


Calculating your final grade

Your final grade is based on your 16 quiz and 3 writing assignment scores. Here is the breakdown:


Points Possible

16 quizzes


3 writing assignments


Total points possible in the course =


Final grades will be based on the following STRAIGHT SCALE (this scale has been specifically developed using 3,700+ past students' final grades in GEO 206-V):



91 - 100


85 - 90


79 - 84


73 - 78


67 - 72


61 - 66


52 - 60


< 52


Extra credit

Given the number of assessments and abbreviated length of the session, no extra credit work will be considered.

GEO 206-V: Physical Geography, Online                        Spring 2017 Semester: Schedule

Important Dates
M, Jan 16: No Class | M, Feb 3: Last Day for Tuition Refund | W, Mar 1: Middle of Semester | M, Mar 6 to F, Mar 10: No Class

Writing Assignment Schedule

Th, February 16        due by 11:59 PM (ET)        (25 points)

Th, March 23                due by 11:59 PM (ET)        (25 points)

Th, April 20                due by 11:59 PM (ET)        (25 points)




Selected text readings from



Getting Started; Course Introduction




Introduction to Physical Geography

Chapter 1

Quiz 1: due Tu, January 17*                 (all material from Lesson 1; 10 points)

Tu, January 17: Entrance and Assessment Questionnaires due**



Geographic Tools

Chapter 2

Quiz 2: due Mon, January 23*                 (all material from Lesson 2; 15 points)



The Earth & Sun

Chapter 3

Quiz 3: due Mon, January 30*                 (all material from Lesson 3; 15 points)



Atmosphere & Global Radiation

Chapters 4 & 5

Quiz 4: due Mon, February 6*                 (all material from Lesson 4; 15 points)



Pressure, Winds, & Circulation

Chapter 6

Quiz 5: due Mon, February 13*                 (all material from Lesson 5; 15 points)



Precipitation  & Cyclonic Weather Systems

Chapters 7 & 8

Quiz 6: due Mon, February 20*                 (all material from Lesson 6; 20 points)




Chapter 9

Quiz 7: due Mon, February 27*                 (all material from Lesson 7; 10 points)




Chapter 10

Quiz 8: due Mon, March 13**                 (all material from Lesson 8; 15 points)



Environmental & Climatic Change

Chapter 9

Quiz 9: due Mon, March 20*                 (all material from Lesson 9; 15 points)




Chapter 11

Quiz 10: due Mon, March 27*                 (all material from Lesson 10; 15 points)



Plate Tectonics

Chapter 13

Quiz 11: due Mon, April 3*                 (all material from Lesson 11; 15 points)



Rocks, Weathering, and Mass Wasting

Chapters 12, 14, & 15

Quiz 12: due Mon, April 10*                 (all material from Lesson 12; 15 points)



Fluvial Geomorphology

Chapters 15  & 16

Quiz 13: due Mon, April 17*                 (all material from Lesson 13; 15 points)



Coastal Geomorphology

Chapter 19

Quiz 14: due Mon, April 24*                 (all material from Lesson 14; 15 points)



Glacial Geomorphology

Chapter 17

Quiz 15: due Wed, May 3*                 (all material from Lesson 15; 15 points)



Eolian Geomorphology

Chapter 18

Quiz 16: due Wed, May 3*                 (all material from Lesson 16; 15 points)



Course Wrap-up

Chapter 20

* Quizzes will open at 12 PM (ET) on Tuesday the week before they are due and will close at 11:59 PM (ET) on the due day/date noted above. 

**Quiz 8 will open the Tuesday before spring break and close at 11:59 PM (ET) on the due day/date noted above.